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Wednesday, 08 January 2020 19:26

Progress on 15 Approved New Free Schools in Kent and Medway

The latest published government list of Approved Free Schools in Kent and Medway, up to October 2019 and still in the pre-opening stage, lists the 15 schools below. Most of these have been considered in previous articles, brought up to date here. Several have been waiting for many years with as yet no sign of progress.
There is a separate Information Page on Kent and Medway's planned and opened Free Schools here
The new schools are: Alkerden School (secondary, likely to be all through), Ebbsfleet; Aspire Special School, Sittingbourne; Barton Manor School (secondary), Canterbury; Bearsted Primary Academy, Maidstone; Chilmington Green Secondary Academy, Ashford; Ebbsfleet Green Primary School; Leigh Academy RainhamMargate Presumption; Rochester Riverside CofE Primary School; School of Science and Technology Maidstone; Springhead Park Primary School, Gravesham (Ebbsfleet); Snowfields Academy (Special School), Bearsted, Maidstone; St Andrew’s Primary Free School, Paddock Wood; The Beeches (Alternative Provision Primary Centre), Chatham;  The Maritime Academy, Strood.
Fuller details on all these schools below. Delays in the two new secondary schools in Medway will be causing problems in secondary provision in September this year, explored below
This is a complex subject area which has required considerable research. If you can add to any of the individual school entries below, or have notice an error or omission, please let me know. 
Alkerden School, Ebbsfleet.
In 2018 The Aletheia Anglican Academies Trust was awarded a new Eight Form Entry secondary school in the Alkerden District of Ebbsfleet. This is to have a 15 place Specialist Resourced Provision (SEN Unit) for children with ASD. KCC stipulated as part of the agreement that the school should be willing to absorb a proposed new two form entry primary school and Nursery as part of an all through provision, and the school has now carried out a Consultation on this
 Aspire School, a new Special School in Sittingbourne, to be sponsored by Grove Park Academies. 
Work began on building this school, at an estimated cost of £10 million in July 2019. Previous article here. The school is fortunate to have as Headteacher, Neil Dipple, an Outstanding teacher I knew well from his time at the Outstanding Ifield Special School in Gravesend. 
Barton Manor School is to be run by Barton Court Academy Trust
Like many Free Schools before it, opening has now been delayed until 2021, because of ‘protracted negotiations between KCC and the Department for Education over how much of the site will be given over to the school’. A previous article with planned opening in 2019, is here. Building is now expected to start in January 2020.
 Bearsted Primary Academy situated in Maidstone, to be run by Leigh Academies Trust.
See previous article here. The school was planned to open in 2018, now set for 2020. The further details website was not accessible at time of writing.
Chilmington Green Secondary Academy in Ashford is to be run by United Learning.
Approved in June 2019, but no further details at the time of writing (December 2019).
 Ebbsfleet Green Primary School is to be run by the Maritime Academy Trust, opening in September 2020. Admission applications are now being accepted. The school will share a headteacher with Greenacres Primary School in Eltham whilst it is growing.
 Leigh Academy Rainham. Planned to open in 2021, it will have a new multi-million pound purpose built building, that is planned to be built on a site along Otterham Quay Lane. Planning permission has now been granted (17 Jan). Further details website not accessible at time of writing. To be run by Leigh Academy Trust. See below
Margate Presumption. Plans for this proposed secondary academy, to be sponsored by the Howard AcademyTrust, are now in chaos after the previous Leader of KCC vetoed it as one of his final actions in post. you will find further details here.
 Rochester Riverside Church of England Primary School is to be run by the Pilgrim Multi-Academy Trust
It is planned to open in 2021. The school will be part of the new Rochester Riverside housing development, close to Rochester railway station.
 School of Science and Technology, Maidstone. To be run by Valley Invicta Academies Trust.
One of the longest Free Schools in incubation, having been first agreed in 2016, but now to come on stream in September 2020. Problems have been mainly to do with traffic flow past and to the school, as explained here.
 Springhead Park Primary School, Gravesham (Ebbsfleet).
This is to be run by the Primary First Trust, initial details here. It is one of seven new primary schools for the area, opening in September 2020. Further details here. The site was originally earmarked for the Hope Community Academy. This was a project that was scrapped in 2017, shortly before opening in 2018, as KCC Officers considered there was insufficient demand, then almost immediately replaced by the new project to resolve pressure on places, as explained here!
 Snowfields Academy, a Secondary Special School for pupils with ASD, in Bearsted, Maidstone to be run by Leigh Academies Trust. Planned opening 2020. Further details hereFurther details website not accessible at time of writing.
 St Andrew's Primary Free School, Paddock Wood, to be run by the Tenax Trust.
It was planned to open this school in 2018, in what appears to be an initiative by the Trust, rather than a response to a shortage of places. According to the school website, it reached the stage where a contractor was identified to build the new school after tenders were considered. However, the site goes on to explain that ‘Following a recent review of KCC’s data by the DfE, it has been determined that the analysis of Basic Need does not yet support the opening of this two form entry school’  because of slower rate of housebuilding than expected. The project has therefore been ‘paused’, although ‘The Tenax Trust and St Andrew’s remain wholeheartedly committed to this project and to the delivery of a new Church primary school, when appropriate’.
The Beeches, an Alternative Provision Centre in Medway. There is a complex background issue highlighted here, one paragraph explaining that:High levels of exclusion coupled with the rarity of reintegration means that there is insufficient space in the two Medway Alternative Provision schools to accommodate even half of permanently excluded children. This forces the local authority to place in settings that are either less than ‘good’ or are outside of Medway. It also offers a rationale for Alternative Provision schools which are ‘intended, in most cases, to be short stay schools, with pupils returning to their home school after a period of intervention to improve behaviour’.  In Kent the AP Schools cater to a large extent for pupils at risk of permanent exclusion, although in Medway there appears no such facility. The new proposal for Medway is for ‘establishing a single all through integrated service on a single site. This service would result in: a short stay provision for permanently excluded primary school children and secondary pupils in key stage 3; time limited behaviour modification places for referred primary school pupils and secondary in key stage 3; educational placements for students in key stage 4 for whom reintegration is not appropriate;  outreach services to schools; and all primary and secondary pupils up to the end of year nine should be on a reintegration plan’. It is therefore proposed ‘to amalgamate Will Adams and The Rowans into an all-through provision, initially on a split site and over time to merge onto a single site at the Rowans, by the technical closure of Will Adams and the expansion of The Rowans’.  Then follows the only mention of The Beeches: The delivery of the DFE funded Beeches Free School operated by the highly thought of and Ofsted rated outstanding, Rowans Alternative Provision Centre, under the Inspiring Change Trust should be supported. The Beeches will be located on the same site would provide the all-through element recommended by the review. In another document the ‘school’ is described as ‘The Beeches: an alternative provision primary school with places for 35 pupils with behavioural issues and excluded children. This will be managed by the Rowans Academy Trust and will be located adjacent to the current Rowans site! Hardly sounds very separate for a new Free School.
The Maritime Academy, Strood, an all through school, to be run by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, illustrates one of the central problems facing potential Free Schools in moving from concept to realisation. A Medway Council Cabinet Paper for a Meeting back in March sets out major issues with a proposed land purchase to the West of Berwick Way and south of Frindsbury Hill, dealing with ‘overage’ a legal condition I am not sure I understand but which has proved a major stumbling block. The Minutes of the Meeting show that the Council decided to ‘underwrite the overage held against the land’. This decision would only cost the Authority money if the DFE, having bought the land, sold it for housing within the next 14 years. The decision meant that: ‘Approving the underwriting of the overage will enable the Department for Education (DFE) to agree a land acquisition with the owners of the Manor Barn site, and is a low risk high reward strategy which will provide a site for the construction of a secondary Free School, to help meet increasing demand in Medway, with all construction costs met by the DFE’ All of this suggests that the project is back on track, as confirmed in other Medway Council papers, although the new school will not be ready until at least 2021. See below.
Provision of non-selective secondary places in Medway for September 2020. 
There were just 34 vacancies out of 2400 available in Medway non-selective schools, or 1% of the total on allocation in March 2019 for entry in September 2019. This was after four schools admitted above their Published Admission Number. The October 2019 census shows that the 11 non-selective schools admitted a total of 2441 pupils, with seven taking above PAN through appeals, and just four having 44 vacant spaces between them. 
The delays in opening of the proposed new Leigh Academy Rainham and Maritime Academy in Strood, are leading to a major problem this year, with a forecast shortage (para 3.13.1) of 197 places for September 2020. 'The Council is working with partners to ensure sufficient school places are available.' The problem is that all but one of the secondary schools are academies, not accountable to Medway Council, so any temporary expansions have to be by agreement. The Council was to receive a 'Secondary Bulge Classes for September 2020' Paper, but this is not yet available, suggesting there may be problems ahead.  
Last modified on Sunday, 30 August 2020 07:07

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